With the rising sea levels -- a result of the shrinking polar ice cap -- experts including Bowman say the risk of massive flooding events is increasing each year -- and not just in low-lying communities like New Orleans.
"We have to start planning," Bowman said. "It's no longer every person for themselves. There's too much at risk. We have to do it."
The polar problem
Over the past 20 years, the global sea level has risen more than two inches as a result of Greenland's shrinking ice masses, according to Dr. Kevin Tremberth with the National Center for Atmospheric Research. That's because warmer temperatures are melting the polar ice caps.
Recent satellite images from NASA showed unprecedented surface ice melt, with about 97% of Greenland's ice sheet showing signs of thawing.
These changes in the polar region are closely monitored by climate scientists, like Daniel Steinhage, whose team surveyed Greenland's shrinking ice with Polar 6 one of the most advanced research aircraft in the world. It will take months to evaluate the data gathered by the aircraft, including ice samples thousands of years old taken from deep within the ice sheet.
The Arctic is something like an archive of the Earth's climate and within its layers, researchers can find information on temperatures, the amount of precipitation, dust particles and ash from volcanic eruptions dating back 100,000 years.
"If we can explain the past, what happened there, then we can use the same programs to run them forward to see what the future will bring us," said Steinhage of Germany's Alfred Wegener Institute.
Long before the official lab analysis, scientist Sepp Kippstuhl can identify some unique patterns even with his naked eye.
What he and the other scientists are seeing is that Greenland's ice sheet is vanishing quickly -- a fact confirmed by the 2012 NOAA Arctic Report Card.
What's not entirely clear is how quickly, how often, and why temperatures changed in the past, something that these scientists are studying to better understand how our climate is evolving today.
For now, one thing is clear: Melting ice and rising sea levels increase the potential of a damaging storm surge.
"We expect several more feet in the next century," said climate scientist Adam Sobel. "So if you start with higher water ... the storm surge will be added on top of that. And so, we'll get a higher flood."
Who's going to pay?
Superstorm Sandy brought a record-breaking 15-foot storm surge to New York Harbor (the storm surge is the level of water generated by a storm that's above the normal high tide). As Sandy approached New York, one buoy in the harbor measured a 32.5-foot wave -- nearly seven feet taller than the highest wave churned up by Hurricane Irene in 2011.
The enormous amount of water combined with the storm's powerful winds washed out the low-lying beachside neighborhood of Breezy Point, New York. The flooding is believed to have sparked a fire that burned down more than 100 homes.
Bowman said all of that devastation could have been avoided.
He said 30-foot-high sand dunes would have been enough to keep Breezy Point dry.
Projects such as that are expensive to build -- but sometimes the cost isn't the only hurdle standing in the way.
Some oceanfront residents in New Jersey have stymied a federally funded effort to build storm-protecting dunes -- even after witnessing the devastation from Sandy and Irene.
It comes down to a property rights issue: Homeowners must cede part of their land to the government through easements, where the dunes will be built. Some homeowners want the government to compensate them for land; others just don't want to allow the government to control the property.
"If we did sign it, we give up our land," Long Beach Island, New Jersey, resident Dorothy Jedziniak told National Public Radio. "Assignment means that your local politicians could assign a walkway, toilets, whatever."
Bowman believes the cost is too high for residents living near the coast not to act.
"People who lived here are paying for it in terms of human misery," he said. "But if you talk about paying for it in terms of rebuilding and the dollars, where are the dollars going to come from? And are the people of the Midwest going want to pay for protecting these privileged few people who are lucky enough to live on the ocean's edge? I don't think so."